Manchester Storm 3 Sheffield Steelers 5 - We'll meet again as Steelers finish as top seeds

Sheffield Steelers can be proud of accomplishing their mission to become top seeds in the EIHL mini series - an extraordinary feat considering their import goalie has played only 34 minutes of hockey out of 12 hours of play.

By Bob Westerdale
Sunday, 25th April 2021, 9:24 pm

John Muse's injury placed intense pressure on homegrown youngsters Ben Churchfield and Curtis Warburton, but the duo and the skaters in front of them did enough to ensure Steelers ended top of the pile.

Now the team has to repeat that feat and possibly even up their game if they are to be play-off champions.

They face Manchester again on Tuesday night in the knockout semi final first leg.

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Joy for Steelers after scoring against Manchester. Pic by Mark Ferriss.

It's certainly not been an easy ride to get to this point.

Before Sunday's dead-rubber game with Storm, which Sheffield won 5-3, Steelers had lost three of their previous five games, the latest coming by way of a 5-4 defeat to Nottingham Panthers on Saturday night.

But you cannot ignore the positive and sometimes conflicting factors at work behind their league placing: campaigning with inexperienced but improving goalies at one end while exploding with offensive firepower at the other.

On Sunday, at Nottingham, Steelers netted with the first shot, Kevin Schulze catching Sean Bonar cold.

Sheffield Steelers' Jonathan Phillips braces himself. Pic by Mark Ferriss.

Manchester eventually found their own range, Craig Peacock picking out Tyson Fawcett for 1-1.

Liam Kirk nudged Sheffield ahead with a contender for goal of the tournament. Revelling in the extra space on a 4-on 4 play, he skated at speed to the paint, before tucking the puck under Bonar.

Frustratingly, a routine contact with arm and player led to a harsh Jonathan Phillips' penalty for elbows.

Churchfield saved Fawcett on the penalty kill but at 12:46 Ciaran Long beat him, for 2-2.

Matt Myers competes at a face off. Pic by Mark Ferriss

The game was anybody's; Davey Phillips hammered the puck against Bonar's crossbar before a mistake by Bálint Pákozdi at the other end almost gifted Manchester the lead.

Sheffield, who had rested Jérémy Beaudry and Brendan Connolly, couldn't find any consistent rhythm in which they could get their speed merchants flying.

Eventually Robert Dowd's craft exposed the Storm defence, he passed to Solder Olden who switched the puck to skipper Phillips and he fired inch-perfect for 3-2 at 26:37.

The momentum seemed to be with the white-shirts of South Yorkshire, but then Ryan Finnerty's men in black found a second wind.

Ben Lake narrowly failed to knock the puck home from inches out, then Churchfield saved Sheffield's bacon. Adrian Saxrud-Danielsen had lost the puck but Cameron Critchlow couldn't beat the Sheffield goalie on a clean breakaway.

That scare propelled Sheffield forward. Eberle struck the post before Josef Mikyska teed up Sam Jones for 4-2.

Churchfield's blocker wasn't enough to stop Dallas Ehrhardt halving the deficit, though.

Was this to be the second weekend game where a decent lead had been whittled away?

Jonathan Phillips decided against that. The 901-game Steeler scored an empty netter at 57;35 to put the matter beyond doubt.